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Tearing down Tesla Model S: Is it a car or an iPad?

Posted: 16 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electric vehicle  Tesla  Model S  teardown 

Tesla made its mark in the electric vehicle market with the Model S, but the car's uniqueness runs far deeper than its electric drivetrain, battery packs and futuristic body. What many don't know is that Tesla's unconventional approach runs all the way down to the electronics behind the car's infotainment and instrumentation, according to IHS Technology's Teardown Analysis Service.

The Silicon Valley based company recently rolled out its "D"—which stands for dual motor, not driverless—model sedan. D is actually the all-wheel-version of Model S, and the two share many of Tesla's trademark innovation, except, of course, for the dual engine chassis. (Read our "D" report here: Tesla drops 'D' bomb: Highs and lows of all-wheel-drive)

So what makes Model S interesting? According to IHS's Teardown Analysis Service, Tesla's flagship electric car apparently has more in common with a tablet or smartphone that it does with a conventional automobile.

"The cost structure of the electronics, the use of large displays in the cabin, the touch-screen-based controls, the mobile microchips—everything in this design makes the Tesla experience more like a media tablet or high-end smartphone than a traditional automobile," said Andrew Rassweiler, senior director for materials and cost benchmarking at IHS. "It's like looking at the components from the latest mobile device from an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy product. When it comes to the user-facing segment of the Model S's electronics, the company has radically departed from business-as-usual in the automotive market."

IHS, which has yet to complete the teardown process, analysed the car's two most electronics-intensive segments: the virtual instrument cluster and the premium media control unit—aka the head unit—which is the main centre stack and touchscreen panel.

Tesla 2013 Model S Premium Media Control Unit

Interior view of Tesla 2013 Model S premium media control unit (Source: IHS)

The analysis has generated a list of features, including a 17-inch display and touchscreen, which is much larger than the average automotive infotainment interface, and a complex automotive head unit design with more than 5,000 discrete components. It also uses an Nvidia Tegra 3, 1.4GHz quad core processor, which gives the car computing power that rivals recent smartphone and tablet designs.

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